Now that actor / racing junkie Patrick Dempsey has exited stage left from Grey’s Anatomy, he is focusing on participating in the FIA World Endurance Championship in a Porsche 991 GT3 RSR. He spoke to our Fashion Director Kate Hazell about his life on wheels.
What cars did you have when growing up?
We had station wagons, and this was back way before anyone had minivans. On road trips we’d all be in the back, no seat belts on. So that was our first family car. The first new car we had was a Chevy Monte Carlo, Burgundy white top [below]. But when I was a teenager I drove the station wagon – I learnt to parallel park in that thing. For my driving test I had practised between two trash cans, so when I did the test I aced it. Growing up in rural Maine you had to bike anywhere unless you drove, so my real freedom came from my driver’s license.
What was the first car you bought?
A Ferrari 356 [below] after my first big movie when I was 18. It was a 1963 model and I spent my entire pay cheque on it. I bought it off the street for under ten grand – best thing I ever bought. I loved it because it was a symbol of making it. I didn’t have any money but I had a cool car. It’s such an iconic car and I drove it daily for 10 years.
Any memorable road trips from the past?
We’d always go down to Maryland to see my grandparents. They were certainly memorable but there were not a lot of road trips apart from those. These days I like road trips with my kids; you have to communicate which is fun. I love to get in my 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE [below] and drive up the coast. We try to not let them watch DVDs with their headphones on.
So you collect cars?
Yeah, Porsche mainly. I used to have a few but I wasn’t utilising them so now I just have a couple. My favourite is the 356. It’s the most reliable, the most fun and the most enjoyable to drive. You can leave it for two months come back and boom, it starts. Other cars I’ve had were more demanding. They needed constant attention.
What car did you drive in your first race?
My first competitive race was 2006 in mid-Ohio. It was in a Panoz Esperante [below]. Don Panoz brought over the American Le Mans series. he built his own car and they had a good racing series. I remember getting to the grid and just thinking about how hot it was in mid July. I don’t think people realise how much it takes to overcome the heat in the car. I had to condition myself – that was my first big lesson.
What has been the drive of your life?
Another race in mid-Ohio. I started at the back of the grid and ended up on the podium. It was at VIR [Virginia International Raceway] last year. We’ve been very competitive at Le Mans too. At Daytona this year we were on the podium – from dead last to fifth place. My disadvantage is a lack of seat time, but the more of it I get the more relaxed I become. The support I’ve been getting from Porsche has been remarkable; they understand what it takes and are willing to give me the resources to be able to do that.
What does Porsche mean to you as a brand?
The heritage is what I love. The whole concept came from Porsche really wanting to create a race car, and the 356 came from that. So, in essence, it’s the DNA and philosophy. Even though the entire fleet is much bigger, it all comes from racing. If you look at the 356 line it’s still the same but just with more technology and more refined. Being a part of all that it was makes it so special. It’s also very challenging in a good way.
What makes it so challenging?
The Porsche 911 RSR I drive is very similar to a 911 on the street, apart from the aero package, the tyres and how it’s stripped down. The braking and mid corner speed is the most challenging thing. You make the tyres take care of the downforce and let the car do it for you.
What is your day-to-day car at the moment?
A Panamera GTS [below]. It’s a really fun car. I just ordered a Cayenne too, and I want to get another early Porsche. I just ordered a hybrid so that’s what I’ll be getting next. In LA it’s very practical and I can put everything in it, the kids and bikes etc. I might get an early 911 too.
Have you seen many super cars in Dubai?
I’ve seen a lot of customisations here which is great; it’s a form of expression. Porsche has a design place where you can customise your car. You can match the interiors and colour, all that stuff. It’s great.
What’s your dream car?
The 917 is what everybody wants, and I’d also have a ’79 911 turbo in black. [below]
Would you do a racing movie?
I’m in the process of doing that right now actually – based on the book The Limit about the Grand Prix driver Phil Hill and the 1961 F1 championship. There was a race car driver and journalist in the ’50s and ’60s called Denise McCluggage and she was the first real feminist in racing. She was really respected as a driver and was a great writer. Her character is the main focus really. It’s like mad men in the racing world. I sold that as a limited series to the Sundance channel and I’m looking forward to it.